I went to hear T. Boone Pickens speak at the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. Ain't T. Boone a good ole' southern name? (I'm allowed to talk like that cuz I'm part Texan) One thing I surely respect about T. Boone is that he aint sittin' around at the Dallas Country Club Sunday brunch whining about the world. He is out Campaigning. He has a plan, and as a private citizen, has taken it into his own hands to liberate us from Foreign Oil and Pollution.
In his slow but punchy southern drawl he outlined his strategy, took some questions shared some insider gossip from the Oval office... and invited us all to plug into the plan.
Pickens Plan 101: The Problem: Oil addiction threatens our economy, environment, and national security. We're importing 70% of our oil, up from 24% in 1970. At current prices, it cost us $700 billion a year- 4 times the annual cost of the Iraq war. Over the next 10 years it will cost American's $10 trillion. In one year a 3-megawatt wind turbine produces as much energy as 12,000 barrels of imported oil.
A Two-fold Solution: Build wind facilities in the corridor from the Texas panhandle to North Dakota.
This could produce 20% of the electricity the United States needs at a cost of $1 trillion. And though it would take another $200 billion to build the capacity to transmit that energy to cities and towns, that is a one-time cost - a bargain compared to $10 trillion in the next 10 years. Better yet, it can provide an Economic Revival for Rural America.
It would create new "Green Jobs" in construction, maintenance, and manufacturing. And ground surface occupied by the turbines does not threaten food production. Build a pipeline for Natural Gas 22% of our nation's energy comes from Natural Gas, which is better used as a fuel. Transition that 22% to transportation. Increase our Wind Production to 22% of the National Energy supply to replace Natural Gas. T. Boone argues Natural Gas is cleaner, cheaper, domestic and plentiful.
This 'Half-Texan's' Response
You gotta respect T. Boone for having a plan and taking it to the streets. But from my perspective I see a couple problems with the Pickens plan:
Automobiles would still produce carbon dioxide whether using natural gas or gasoline, but natural gas vehicles produce about 25% less. Combustion of gasoline produces much larger amounts of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other air pollutants than combustion of natural gas. Nitrogen oxides cause brownish atmospheric smog.
But when T. Boone states that he envisions the conversion to natural gas for use in automobiles as the transition to the next technology, I begin to wonder. If we are going to be building out new infrastructure for the future of transportation, should we really be building it on a BRIDGE fuel? Wouldn't it be better to invest in a transportation infrastructure that has a longer viability? Its important that as we craft a domestic and Global plan to shift towards a sustainable energy road map, we diversify yes, but don't throw everything into our little energy cocktail: some wind, a little solar, a dash of geothermal and toss in some other stuff - ehem- nuclear, natural gas, clean coal, etc. etc. Some things just need to be phased out sooner rather than later. I strongly believe that we are not going to get where we need to go fast enough by being "a little less bad." Its time for us to call on the creative ingenuity and the entrepreneurial spirit of our nation to envision, create and build a whole new sustainable energy and transportation infrastructure.
But getting back to T. Boone...
Still, I did thoroughly enjoy T. Boone's perspective from an "Oil Man's" Point of View.
The first question posed to him of the night was " What are you going to do about the Oil Lobby? They are so powerful, there is no way you can go up against them and expect to actually transition to these outrageous renewable goals."
His Answer: "Son, I used to be IN the Oil Lobby! We don't have to worry about them. We the people are more powerful than any lobby any day of the week. Politicians go to bed at night thinking about re-election, and wake up in the morning thinking about re-election. If enough people give a damn, the polls will reflect it and your representatives will too!"
He also shared a little inside gossip about sitting down recently with President Bush to talk about the Pickens Plan and how W could leave a better energy legacy. He said he wished he could say it was a phone call and they were interrupted repeatedly. "But it was a solid uninterrupted hour boom to sell. And there was boom, but no sell." The next week Bush was on TV talking about Ethanol. T. Boone said he went in to talk to Congress a decade ago about Ethanol. And said, "Y'all really don't want to go there, bad emissions, too much water used in the process, and not enough energy for what you put into it." He said senator Dole followed him out and said, "Don't waste your breath on the Ethanol issue. We hear you loud and clear but that doesn't change the fact that half of the senators are from Corn states. So we are gonna have Corn Ethanol."
The Bottom Line
Mr. Pickens is clear about his plan, and while I'm a bit skeptical about the Natural Gas transition, I appreciate him getting out there and stirring things up... The very thought that an "Oil Man" is out there talkin' wind, dissolves some of our preconceptions about who gives a damn and doesn't.